MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY

With each of its three acts performed on a different stage of Sacred Fools’ newly renamed (and spiffily remodeled) Broadwater complex on Santa Monica Blvd. and Lillian, the company’s sensationally directed, performed, and designed Los Angeles Premiere of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play achieves event status. Whether or not Washburn’s audacious Drama Desk-nominated take on a post-Apocalyptic civilization is your cup of tea, for its adventurous execution alone, Mr. Burns is a fall-season must-see.

 Following a nationwide nuclear meltdown, a handful of survivors (and audience members on all four sides of Sacred Fools’ Broadwater Black Box) have gathered round an outdoor fire seeking both companionship and warmth while exchanging memories of … Episode Two of Season Five of The Simpsons.

You remember the one they’re talking about (and if you don’t, watch Cape Feare on YouTube right now). It’s the episode in which longtime Bart Simpson nemesis Sideshow Bob gets released from the slammer with the intention of taking murderous revenge on the spiky-haired rascal who sent him there.

From this premise, TV writer Jon Vitti confectioned a distinctively Simpsonian satire of the 1991 remake of the 1962 suspense movie classic Cape Fear, an episode which apocalypse survivor Matt (Scott Golden) now attempts to reconstruct with the aid of half-a-dozen fellow forest dwellers, recollections as certain to provoke delighted chuckles of recognition from audience members as they do from Matt and his companions.

Things darken considerably when a stranger (Eric Curtis Johnson as Gibson) shows up uninvited to their makeshift camp, a man who like those seated around the fire carries with him a notebook filled with the names and ages of survivors he has encountered and those he hopes to locate should the exchange of information among strangers reveal a friend or loved one still alive.

Act Two takes us to the Broadwater Second Stage where the same group of survivors (give or take one or two) have now formed a theatrical troupe to recreate Simpsons episodes (and TV commercials depicting life as it once was) as their only palpable link to a past they can now hardly remember.

Post-intermission, we enter the Broadwater Mainstage where, seventy-five years having passed, a new generation of survivors is putting on a show, Cape Feare as a surreal thirty-minute indie-rock operetta in which Sideshow Bob’s role as villain has been taken over by Springfield nuclear power plant owner Mr. Burns, those original campfire memories having morphed over eight decades into the stuff of legend.

If it’s not already obvious, playwright Washburn has a lot on her mind, not only mankind’s need for stories to pass on from generation to generation but also the power of theater to replicate life as we know (and as we knew) it.

Director Jaime Robledo at his most inspired and a supremely talented cast of actors—Tegan Ashton Cohan, Golden, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, Johnson, Tracey A. Leigh, and Heather Roberts—dazzle throughout, first in realistic mode, then (joined by Dagney Kerr) sitcom-style, and finally, with the addition of Emily Clark on piano and Aaron Mendelson on percussion, as musical theater performers, with special snaps to Johnson’s powerful dramatic work, Kerr’s particularly delicious brand of quirky, and Golden’s spot-on “Homer Thompson” in Cape Feare’s iconic “When I say Mrs. Thompson, you respond as Mr. Thompson” witness protection scene.

With three interconnected theatrical spaces (small, medium, and large) in a single complex, Sacred Fools may have an unfair advantage over other companies who’ve staged or will stage Mr. Burns, but no L.A. theatergoer is likely to protest the unique treat of seeing scenic designer Joel Daavid’s trio of stylistically distinct sets, from haze-filled forest clearing to makeshift “TV studio” to fantastical pirate ship, created in collaboration with charge scenic artist Marine Walton.

Lighting designer Matthew Richter adds to the dazzle throughout as do Linda Muggeridge’s extraordinarily eclectic costumes, the weird and wondrous Africanesque masks she and Aviva Pressman have designed for the Act Three fantasia (complemented by Mandi Moss’s quirky makeup design), and Brandon Clark’s equally impressive collection of props.

Robledo’s sound design is a dramatic stunner as well, with choreographic kudos due Lauren Van Kurin and Erin Parks for Act Two’s music video-ready medley of pre-meltdown Top 40 hits performed by Cohan, Golden, Hernandez-Kolski, Johnson, Kerr, Leigh, and Roberts like triple-threat pros under Ryan Thomas Johnson’s expert musical direction, and to Robledo for his striking Act III choreography as well.

A program In Memoriam pays tribute to composer Michael Friedman, whose infectiously discordant melodies in Act Three make Friedman’s recent AIDS death at 41 a particularly devastating loss to American musical theater.

Additional deserved program credits are shared by Edgar Landa for some dynamic fight choreography, assistant director Matt Almos, associate music director Clark, associate set designer DeAnne Millais, assistant scenic artists Joyce Hutter and Paul Sheargold, scenic painter Summer Reese, costume assistant Moss, and dance captain Kerr.

Jeff Scot Carey, Adriana Colón, Dana DeRuyck, Ashley Eskew, Sean Faye, Shiah Luna, and Michael Shaw Fisher are understudies.

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play is produced for Sacred Fools by Brian W. Wallis. Allison Faith Sulock is associate producer. Ellen Boener is stage manager and Jeff Dinnell is assistant stage manager.

Overused as the term one-of-a-kind may be, I guarantee you’ve never seen anything quite like (or perhaps even remotely resembling) Mr. Burns. This “post-electric play” is sure to stick with you post-performance and beyond.

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The Broadwater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles. Through December 9. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 7:00. Reservations: 310 281-8337
www.sacredfools.org

–Steven Stanley
November 3, 2017
Photos: Jessica Sherman Photography

 

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